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Chinese archaeologist refutes BBC report on Terracotta Warriors

A Chinese archaeologist recently refuted a BBC report about northwest China's Terracotta Warriors, saying that the article has quoted her out of context and overstated her remarks about Western influence on the 8,000 life-sized figures.

Chinese archaeologist refutes BBC report on Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors [Credit: jeremybarwick, Creative Commons]
The BBC report, released October 12, said archaeologists have found that inspiration for the Terracotta Warriors, found at the Tomb of the First Emperor near today's Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, may have come from Ancient Greece.

The article quoted Li Xiuzhen, senior archaeologist from the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum, as saying, "We now think the Terracotta Army, the acrobats and the bronze sculptures found on site were inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art."

Li, however, said that the BBC quoted her out of context, as the article ignored much of what she told BBC reporters.

"I think the terracotta warriors may be inspired by Western culture, but were uniquely made by the Chinese. BBC overstated my remarks about Western inspiration and ignored main points I made during the interview," Li told Xinhua.

Li said the local nature and cultural environment, such as soil, craftsmen and traditional funeral culture, all contributed to the creation of the Terracotta Warriors.

She also pointed out that the article put her quotes right before those of Professor Lukas Nickel from the University of Vienna, whose opinion is contrary to her own, but makes it seem as if they share the same idea.

According to the article, Prof. Nickel said, "I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals."

"I am an archaeologist, and I value evidence. I've found no Greek names on the backs of Terracotta Warriors, which supports my idea that there was no Greek artisan training the local sculptors," Li said.

Source: Xinhua [October 18, 2016]

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  1. Well, the documentary of BBC clearly shows there are much more evidences.
    From the lost Waxing technique that was exclusively only know by the Egyptians and Greeks, the techniques used to make bronze art, which was unheard of in China.

    The fact alone that before Alexander the Great spread Greek civilization deep into Asia, before that there is hardly any art in Central Asia/Indian subcontinent and China that even comes close to the near artistry of the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks had a 400 year long lasting Greek Kingdom in what is now Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan/India and has already numerous other influences, among which the Greek gandaharan Buddha style, which was for 1000 years the largest stream in Asia.

    Afghanistan's borders are 80 km shared with that of China. And since the statues, and other bronze works on and around the Tomb of the Chinese emperor are found to be of similar techniques that the Greeks used for centuries, which where unheard of in China, I strongly believe that the Greeks do have influenced the Chinese, as they have also done with other civilizations in the area. And the fact that there has not been found Greek writing on the statues, is not so uncommon at all. First of all not every (Greek) statue/work has (Greek) writing on it, and second, we don't know what exactly happened there or what the terms are of the the Emperor Qin Shi Huan and so on. And third there is still information under the ground, and archaeological evidences that are waiting to be revealed. I am not decisively concluding anything, but all the leads/evidence so far and knowing the history of the Greeks and it's history and influences in and around Central Asia, I believe that the Greeks did came in contact and did influence the Chinese.

  2. Li's conjectures probably didn't sit well with the Communist Party, and she got a call suggesting she walk her statements back a bit and provide a more Sino-centric view of the statues.

  3. You are missing the point, the archaeologist is not saying that there is not a western influence in the lost wax technique (which is a minor point because there isn't one way to the lost wax technique), but that the terra cotta warriors were made by Chinese artisans (fact) which could be proven through confirming the type of clay (and soil) used to make the terra warriors, as well as the other distinctive techniques that makes the work local to the region where the sculptures were found. Although the lost wax technique could have been influenced by the Greeks or Egyptians, of which no one knows specifically because clearly this technique predates the terra cotta warriors--- the idea that the Chinese were directly contacting the west at that specific moment in time is pure conjecture. The fact the archaeologist is trying to drive home is, these statues were made in China by local Chinese artisans. If BBC is using her article as a credible source, they better know what she is trying to say. Otherwise, they' are fools and putting their foot in to their own mouths. They are better off not using her source than using it incorrectly. So no, it isn't a Sino-centric view of the statues because she obviouslly mentions western art. what she is saying is that the article that BBC wrote is emphasizing the wrong points and twisting her words and research into something it is not. She is right to correct them for mis-using her research.


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